‘Agency staff brought in-house’ to end Tower Hamlets strike

Refuse crews will return to work in Tower Hamlets today (28 September) after a deal was struck to end ongoing industrial action in the area.

Collection crews and street sweepers had been on strike for two weeks prior to the deal (picture: Tower Hamlets on 24 September, Shutterstock)

Crews in the area have been on strike since 18 September as part of the national pay dispute, with local media reporting waste “piling” high on the street.

The council brought in private sector help, through Bywaters, to help clear some of the waste during strike action. This arrangement will continue even after staff return “for the next few weeks”, to catch up on missed collections and street cleaning as quickly as possible.

The council explained that the accepted offer will mean that the terms and conditions of staff who joined the council in 2020 when its waste and cleansing services were brought in house, will now be aligned to other council staff.

Tower Hamlets brought its waste collections in-house after the expiration of its previous deal with Veolia in April 2020.

‘Local solution’

Executive mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, said: “We found ourselves in a difficult position because the strike was over a national pay dispute. However, with no resolution in sight, we had to act to see if we could negotiate a local solution.

“We value our refuse staff and we have listened to their concerns to see how we can work constructively and collaboratively to resolve this dispute. Together, we will clear backlogged refuse and clean our streets as quickly as possible.”

Additional staff will be on-hand over the next few weeks to help clear the backlog (picture: Shutterstock)


Unite said in its statement that the strike action was “entirely avoidable” if Tower Hamlets managers had “taken the situation seriously from the outset”.

Unite said around 50 agency workers will be brought in house by the end of December on full council terms and conditions.

The deal comes “hot on the heels of a council wide pay deal of an extra £750 for all low paid Newham council workers. This is thanks to Unite members in refuse taking strike action,” the union said.

Over 200 Tower Hamlets workers made up of refuse and street cleaners had rejected the national pay offer of a flat rate increase of £1,925. The offer amounted to a “real terms pay cut”, Unite claimed.

‘Step forward’

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Council workers across east London are taking action to improve their pay and winning. The deals Unite has reached are another step forward in the battle to win better jobs, pay and conditions for local authority workers.”

Unite regional officer, Nick West, added: “The strike action inevitably caused major disruption to bin collections and street cleaning services. This was entirely avoidable if managers had taken the situation seriously from the outset.”

“Our members were determined to secure a fair pay deal so the intervention of the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman played a part in helping to resolve this dispute.”

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